Heaven and Hell

James opened the laptop and started Skype. Just as the Devil had said, Rebecca's name showed up on the list of available contacts. James double-clicked it and waited for it to connect. The laptop speakers played the digitized sound of a phone dialing and then ringing. A moment later, there was a click and Rebecca's face appeared on the screen.

It was her usual neutral look with a hint of surprise.

"Amazing," she said. "It worked!"

"I know," James replied. "Isn't that crazy?"

"Crazy," Rebecca agreed, now smiling.

"So, how is Heaven?" James asked.

"Oh, it's OK," Rebecca replied. "Peaceful. How is where you are?"

"You mean Hell?" James asked. Rebecca didn't reply and the smile faded slightly. "Sorry," he continued. "I know you don't like to say it."

"I haven't changed much since I got here," Rebecca said.

"Me neither," James said. "Except that now I know you were mostly right about the afterlife."

"Mostly?" Rebecca queried.

"Well, you were right that religious people go to Heaven and sinners go to Hell," James explained. "But atheists also go to Hell."

"I was right about that too," Rebecca said.

"Not exactly right though," James said. "Atheists don't burn for all eternity down here."

"Obviously not," Rebecca taunted, sticking out her tongue. "But what is it like?"

"We are really free. It is kind of like a big party," James said. "I even play in a rock-n-roll band here, just like in life. The Devil has hired my band for a few parties and special events."

"What kind of events?" Rebecca asked.

"You don't want to know," James replied. "It's not pretty. The sinners get their due."

"Oh, you're right, I don't want to know," Rebecca said.

"I am sorry we can't be together," James said, changing the subject. Rebecca's smile faded and her brow furrowed.

"I told you so," Rebecca said. "I tried to get you to convert to my religion."

"Heaven is pretty exclusive, eh?" James asked, rhetorically. "I was surprised by that. Before I died, I always thought that God would have some kind of policy for the significant others of religious folks, kind of like a Green Card for non-believers. So when the Devil told me you had died, I wondered why I didn't get a call from Upstairs."

"Maybe if we had been married," Rebecca said. "I almost didn't get in here because we did things that were, strictly speaking, not allowed in the Bible. It was actually good that you were an atheist, because I was only judged on what I did and God thought my hardcore religiousness saved me."

"And that's another thing," James said. "Being Christian isn't the only way into Heaven apparently. So you weren't exactly right about the Jesus thing either."

"You're nitpicking."

"I know. But I can totally understand why God let you in," James said. "You are the nicest person I ever knew."

Then he changed the subject again. "There is a lot of stuff to do here," James said. "The Devil is really into science and nature and exploring the cosmos. The scientists here, at least the atheist ones, get whatever scientific equipment they want and do a lot of cutting edge stuff."

"Funny," Rebecca said, smiling again. "The scientists were all wrong about God and Heaven."

"Let's not have that debate again, Becks," James said. "Life…er, death…is too short."

"Actually, it's an eternity," Rebecca laughed.

"It's great to see you're so happy, Becks."

"I really am," Rebecca said. "You were right about one thing too."

"Oh yeah? What's that?"

"God gives you your own tropical island when you get to Heaven and you can decide who can visit it."

"Genius," James said. "I knew it."

"But most people here are really nice," Rebecca said. "Like you said, being Christian alone doesn't get you in here, so a lot of not so nice Christians didn't get in. They are down there..."

"Believe me, I know," James said. "My band has played some events where some not so nice Christians were being sent off to various eternal damnations."

"Ugh, don't tell me about that," Rebecca said, scrunching up her face in that cute way James found so endearing.

"I have a gig tonight, Becks, so I need to get going."

"OK, James, let's talk again soon."

"Sounds good. Before we go, can you do that cool click sound with your voice?"

Rebecca made the vocal clicking sound that was characteristic of the native language spoken in South Africa, where she had spent part of her life on Earth.

"I love it," James said. "And I love you."

"I love you too," Rebecca said, and she blew James a kiss over the CosmoNet. He pretended to catch it and touch it to his lips. Then he quit Skype and headed off for his gig.


Historical vs. Devotional Biblical Study

I dated a fundamentalist Christian woman once. She was a very nice person, but she wanted me to convert to Christianity. I told her I supported and respected her beliefs but could not embrace them as my own. She liked me though, so for some reason she stuck with me for a while. All she asked was that I attend Bible study with her. I agreed, because why not? I might learn something.

Unfortunately, it was a bit disastrous. We attended a Bible study in a church and the fundamentalist cleric leading it spent most of the time denigrating science and reason, and not talking about the Bible at all - just putting down everything that contradicted it as the inerrant word of the Lord. I could see where it was leading. Kill off every idea against devotional acceptance of the Bible and all you are left with is devotional acceptance of the Bible. That's not what I was going for, and I was immediately put off. I wanted to get into the meat and potatoes of the "good book." I wanted to find out all the inner workings and drama from a rational scientific and historical standpoint. I wanted to learn about the people who put the Bible together and what their lives were like. But that was not the purpose of this particular Bible study.

On my own, I started reading some of Bart Ehrman's books on historical study of Jesus and the Bible, without the devotional mumbo jumbo of the fundamentalist churchies. Ehrman showed me the difference between devotional closed minded biblical study and historical, scientific, factual biblical study.

I had had a hard time understanding why the churchies avoided exploring the Bible historically, but Ehrman showed that it is a fundamental difference in approach. One is faith based, the other is reason based. With faith, you don't need facts or science, just blind belief. Conversely, reason is limited to what you can know through historical research. It is not interested in miracles so much as why the stories of miracles were included in the Bible.

Once I grasped the fundamental difference between historical biblical study and devotional biblical study, all bets were off. We were doomed.

I wanted to know stuff about the Bible like who really wrote it and how it came to be all in one book and why the stories all contradict in important ways. I wanted to know how it was a product of the times during which the various books were written and why the authors took the angles they did in telling the same stories in different ways. That seemed a lot more eye opening to me than simple ignorant acceptance of the book as the inerrant word of God. I could not understand why Christians would not desire to explore their book more deeply and richly through intimate historical study, even if the facts contradicted their long held devotional beliefs. Why did they fear truth?

In any case, I did not want to be brainwashed into devotional worship of a clearly errant and metaphorical mythology book. I wanted to go deep and rational.

She thought my desire to study the Bible historically was destructive. It was. But only to our relationship.


The Chicken/Egg Question


I have never understood the quandary some people seem to have regarding the question, "Which came first, the chicken or the egg?"

Evolutionarily speaking, the egg predates the chicken by a vast stretch of geological time. It is a no brainer.